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Review: History Channel's 'Vikings' with Gabriel Byrne, Travis Fimmel

Gabriel Byrne has joined the cast of the

Gabriel Byrne has joined the cast of the History Channel's "Vikings." (Credit: HBO, 2008)

So, some of us have been wondering whether The History Channel's very first scripted series would be good or would be (ummm) "The Hatfields & McCoys." We now have an answer. But you're gonna have to read the review, posted below, to find out! (By the way, this is a huge huge deal for THC, for all sorts of reasons, notwithstanding the fact that it IS a departure, and for us Gabriel Byrne fans, there's always interest in what he's doing next...


"Vikings," the History Channel, Sunday, 10.

What it's about: As the cold mists shroud their lands, there is one Viking, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) who has grown tired of the same old plunder-and-pillage raids on lands to the east. He's looking west, across the seas. Surely there is a way to cross them... But his lord, the cruel, vindictive Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) quite literally wants to keep him down on the farm: "You are a farmer. You should be content with your lot." But Ragnar consults his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), enlists his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) for a great voyage, then hires the eccentric Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) to build a boat. Watch out, England. The bad boys are coming. This is, by the way, THC's first fiction series, produced by Michael Hirst, (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”).  

My say: "Vikings" should be a hit for History Channel though it's not immediately apparent why. By Hirst (Showtime’s "The Tudors") and even THC (the raucous, ridiculous "Hatfields & McCoys") standards, this all feels initially restrained, even tame. Beyond some opening fight scenes that appear to have borrowed some blood splatter special effects from "Spartacus," "Vikings" then quickly settles into a fairly routine sword-and-sandal epic narrative that revolves around a sociopath overlord and the subjects who dare to challenge his authority. But it gets better. Hirst knows how to tell a story and History Channel knows how to spend money (a reported $40 million on this nine-parter), and a reasonably absorbing tale slowly unfolds. How historically accurate is this? Beats me, and probably beats the History Channel too. Liberties have generously been taken, and the Vikings have no one but themselves to blame if they come out looking bad here - they were too busy burning and pillaging to leave a written record. There are a few intriguing didactic touches, such as a sundial that helps to guide the outlaws westward, but not enough of them: THC has said it wants this to appeal mostly to young guys who are gamers (seriously) and no need to burden them  with too many facts.

Bottom line: Starts slow, gets better, and very nice to look at (shot mostly in Ireland.)

Grade: B

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